The Slatest

Former Campaign Staffer Accuses Trump of Forced Kiss in 2016

Trump speaks at a podium decorated with a golden eagle in the White House State Dining Room.
President Donald Trump speaks at the State Dining Room of the White House on Monday.
Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

A woman who worked on Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is suing the president over claims he kissed her without consent before a campaign event in Florida, the Washington Post reported Monday.

Alva Johnson, 43, worked on Trump’s Florida campaign when, she says, he grabbed her hand and leaned in for a kiss as he was leaving a campaign RV at an Aug. 24, 2016, event in Tampa. Johnson said she was horrified and turned her head as he leaned in and that the kiss landed on the corner of her mouth. Johnson’s sexual misconduct allegation is the first involving the president to have been made since his election and the only one to have occurred during the campaign.

Johnson’s boyfriend, mother, and stepfather all said Johnson told them immediately about the kiss, which she called “super-creepy and inappropriate” in an interview with the Post. But two people Johnson said were witnesses—a campaign official and former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi—said they had not seen Trump kiss Johnson. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also told the Post that the accusation was “absurd on its face” and that it “is directly contradicted by multiple highly credible eye witness accounts.”

According to the Post, Johnson at first decided to ignore the kiss and continued her work for the campaign. But after Trump’s Access Hollywood moment—a TV outtake in which he bragged about kissing and groping women without their consent because “when you’re a star, they let you do it”—two months later, she began to view the kiss as part of a larger pattern of “sexually predatory conduct” by the president, according to the lawsuit. She told the Post the kiss left her feeling “violated.”

According to the lawsuit, Johnson, who is black, is also suing over racial discrimination, based on claims she was paid less than her white, male counterparts. She is seeking unspecified damages for the emotional pain and suffering from the unwanted kiss.

Johnson was registered as a Democrat several years ago in California, according to the Post, and she said she voted for Obama in both elections. But she said she thought Trump could use his business experience to help black communities, and she decided to join the campaign. In 2015, she attended a rally in Birmingham, Alabama, and lined up to shake hands with Trump at a VIP meet-and-greet event. According to the lawsuit, “as Ms. Johnson approached, Defendant Trump looked her up and down and said, ‘Oh, beautiful, beautiful, fantastic.’ ”

She went on to become director of outreach and coalitions for the campaign in Alabama, where she lived. Then, just before the election, she was sent to Florida and became the campaign’s operations administrative director.

At the August event, Trump invited a group of staff and supporters into a campaign RV, where he was sheltered from the rain. Johnson claims Trump watched her and looked to be trying to make eye contact during the small event. According to the lawsuit:

After fifteen minutes or so, Secret Service officers told Defendant Trump that he should leave so that he could get to the rally. As Defendant Trump approached the door, he passed Ms. Johnson. She told him she had been on the road since March, away from her family. So, she urged him to go in there and “kick ass.”

Defendant Trump grasped her hand and did not let go. He told her he knew she had been on the road for a long time and that she had been doing a great job. He also told Ms. Johnson that he would not forget about her, and that he was going to take care of her. … As Defendant Trump spoke, he tightened his grip on Ms. Johnson’s hand and leaned towards her. He moved close enough that she could feel his breath on her skin.

Ms. Johnson suddenly realized that Defendant Trump was trying to kiss her on the mouth, and attempted to avoid this by turning her head to the right. Defendant Trump kissed her anyway, and the kiss landed on the corner of her mouth. … Johnson was wearing a baseball cap with the bill facing forward. Given her baseball cap, Defendant Trump’s kiss on Ms. Johnson’s mouth was deliberate and required intention.

The kiss allegedly caused her to feel humiliated and like “nothing more than a sexual object he felt entitled to dominate,” according to the lawsuit. Two months later, Johnson sought out a Florida attorney who said he found her allegation “credible” but did not wish to take on the case for other reasons. He referred Johnson to a therapist, who wrote in her notes of an unspecified campaign event that left Johnson upset.

According to the lawsuit, after the Access Hollywood tape was published, Johnson began to understand the kiss as assault by a man with a pattern of exploitative behavior and began to feel conflicted about staying quiet. “She still felt terrible, physically and emotionally, and could not sleep,” according to the lawsuit. She told her therapist she was having nightmares. She quit the Trump campaign, and, after becoming motivated by the #MeToo movement and her feeling that the administration had acted inhumanely during the implementation of its zero-tolerance immigration policy, decided to move forward with her lawsuit.

Trump has been accused of forcibly kissing or in other ways sexually harassing or assaulting more than a dozen women.